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AFC North Round Up: Week Nine: Myocardial Infarction Edition

Bengals week came and went with relatively no smack talk in the pre-Monday Night rituals. After an early, stumbling, bungling seven games, the Bengals fans realised "We are who we were afraid we might be". The Bungles. A team stacked with talent but neglects the need for proper leadership on a team where it is very apparent that the old saying "too many cooks spoil the broth" is still well and truly valid. 

The AFC North was back in force this past weekend, the Ravens and Browns coming off byes, and the Steelers and Bengals resuming a rival riddled with bitterness. The Ravens powered home against a surprisingly lack luster Miami Dolphins effort, the Browns made every Patriot hater's day by pummeling the Patsies into submission, and the Steelers on the National Stage held off an incredible late game rally by the Bengals in order to stick with the Ravens in the divisional standings.  

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GameDay Wrap Up:

 

Miami Dolphins 10 @ Baltimore Ravens 26

In what many a Steeler fan was hoping to be a trap game, the Ravens soon silenced those theories as they put the Dolphins away in the 4th quarter after a close game where really the Ravens kept the Dolphins in it by a lack of punishment in their drives. For Miami, give them credit for a tough stretch of games in which they played Pittsburgh, @Cincinnati and @Baltimore in three consecutive weeks with all games commencing in physical fashion. Inconsistencies and the schedule caught up to the Dophins, and the Ravens just executed the basics well all game long in order to pull out the win.

The Good:

Baltimore Ravens offensive philosophy was very balanced (39 rush, 32 pass) and was very well executed. Against a Dolphins secondary that has been pretty good at times this season, Joe Flacco just took what the defense was giving him and picked them apart, finishing 20/27 for 266 yards and 2 touchdowns. Through 8 games, Flacco is just shy of 4000 yard pace, and he would be just the second Raven to cross that mark in their franchise history.

Ray Rice was utilised like the Pro Bowl version of himself last season, grabbing 83 yards on the ground and took 7 catches for 97 yards. Flacco checked down often and let Rice do the rest, his most impressive being the 34 yard catch and dash. 

You had to like the coverage schemes used by the Baltimore defense in this one as well. At times it look they had confused Henne so much that he thought he was wearing a purple jersey, so started throwing it the other guys with purple jerseys. 3 interceptions and 2 sacks on the day for the defense.

The Bad:

The offense was moving up and down the field seemingly at will at times for the Ravens, yet they appeared to lack that killer instinct to finish off drives with touchdowns rather than field goals. The Ravens were an abysmal 1 for 7 in the Redzone, settling for 4 field goals (plus one missed FG) and kept the Dolphins in the game when in reality this shouldve been a rout based on how Miami were playing.

The Surprise:

It took until 2:46 remaining in the 3rd quarter for the Miami Dolphins to force the Ravens into punting the ball, and in a "salt in the wound" type move, the Ravens perfectly executed a fake punt pass to Cary Williams to keep the drive going, further pushing the knife through the Dolphins hearts. 

The Ravens didnt end up Punting the ball once in the game.

Key Stat:

Time of possession was a whopping 38:22 ratio in favor of the Ravens. They kept the ball, tired out the Miami defense and didnt allow the Dolphins to get into a flow on offense by stalling their drives with turnovers or punts.

They also won the turnover battle by (+3).

Bottom Line:

The Ravens will take the wins any way they can. It keeps the Steelers in the rear view mirror as they own the tie breaker for the moment. Playing and winning in Baltimore is a tough ask for any road team, and if playing conservative and careful is how the Ravens pull out wins, then thats all they will care about for now.

 

New England Patriots 14 @ Cleveland Browns 34

Wow. I still dont really know where to begin with this game. The New England Patriots, who at 6-1 were possibly the quietest team in league history to post such a record after seven games were absolutely shell shocked by the time the final whistles blew in this one. Cleveland, who are turning into serious giant killers this season, proved that their big road victory over New Orleans was no fluke, and showed focus after a bye week to absolutely dismantle the Patriots at the Dawg Pound, winning big in what was an incredible showing.

The Good:

Peyton Hillis is this teams MVP no doubt and I strongly urge any readers of this series to place your Pro Bowl votes for him, as a player he is an incredibly hard worker, and I hear he is just as admiral as a man off the field. Peyton Hillis continues on an epic season, and he grabbed a further 220 total yards, including a career high 184 on the ground to go with two touchdowns as he buried the Patriots. Hillis has given the Cleveland Browns an identity as a football team, something they have not had for a long time now and his play has the entire team around him taking up the same tough, physical, no nonsense approach to the games, and boy is it working.

Colt McCoy is a winner. We knew that from his days at Texas, and he is making it work at the pro level now too. Although at this early stage of his career he is still just a game manager as he gets his feet wet, he still pulls out plays that most veterans would be proud of. Surprisingly elusive and mobile in the pocket, he escaped pressures on more than one occasion to put the ball downfield, and he even tucked it and ran it in for a very impressive touchdown run to cap his day. He is just one of those guys who wins games and looks to have a bright future.

The Browns defense was clutch at key times. The Patriots were just 3/11 on third down, and only had three redzone appearances throughout the game. The Browns outgained the Patriots 404-283.

The Bad:

Hard to point to anything here for Cleveland, so lets look at the Patriots, who finally had a let down game and its implications for the upcoming Steelers game next week.

The Patriots who are well known for being one of the youngest teams in the league this season, had a game where they showed their inexperience. Rookie Rob Gronkowski muffed the opening kickoff, and then had a key fumble inside the attacking 5 yard line when he should have known to go to ground and preserve the drive. That was a ky moment in comparing the young Patriots team to the veteran Cleveland defense, as wily journeyman Abram Elam stripped the ball clean and recovered.

The Patriots under Belicheck have been one of the better teams at returning to form after a down week, and typically have the Steelers number in most meetings, so we are going to have to be sharp in preparations to avoid their vengeance. 

The Suprise:

Other than the score? For all the talk of the Belicheck - Mangini bitterness, it was glorifying to see Belicheck concede defeat and pull Tom Brady late in the game. 

Key Stat:

The Browns have played a team the previous week to the Steelers three times this season. In those games, the Browns are 2-1 with wins over New Orleans and now New England. When the Steelers play the team the following week, we are 0-2. I hope we buck that trend against the Patriots come Sunday.

Bottom Line:

If the Browns can continue this form into next week against a floundering New York Jets team (in Cleveland) and pull out a win, it is now very very possible that the Browns could pull out a winning record this season, if not a post season berth. If they survive the Jets, that would push them to 4-5. The next 4 games are then @JAX, CAR, @MIA, @BUF. Could this team be 8-5 before three consecutive divisional games to conclude the season? Eric Mangini has this team believing in him, and the system, and you can just see the confidence the team now carries. The rest of the NFL should take notice that the Browns are not to be taken lightly.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers 27 @ Cincinnati Bengals 21

Myocardial Infarction is the fancy name for Heart Attack. Raise your hand if you think you suffered one during the 4th quarter in this matchup? My hand is definitely raised, and I am sure many of you out their did the same thing. For awhile there, it was 2009 all over again, >two score lead heading into the 4th, just to watch the offense sputter and the defense collapse. However, this was 2010, not 2009, and this Steeler team showed it had the mettle to finish the game when the pressure was on.

The Good:

Steelers:

Special Teams play was brilliant early on, forcing a fumble turnover on the opening kickoff, blocking a punt (narrowly missing blocking another) and Jeff Reed even hit a 53 yard FG as time wound down in the 1st half.

For the first half, Defense was absolutely dominating for the Steelers. Woodley and Harrison were looking their explosive best on the edges and I counted 3 clear holds in the first half that went uncalled, 2 on Woodley, 1 on Harrison. These two progressed just as dangerously into the 2nd half, with Woodley wearing down #6 overall pick Andre Smith late in the game and getting 2 sacks, Harrison also grabbed 1 by games conclusion. 

Rashard Mendenhall looked like a franchise back late in the game. He was struggling with consistency early on, put he put it to the Bengals in the closing stages when we really needed him, averaging 6 yards per carry and gaining 2 first downs to put Jeff Reed in a position to put the game away in which he squandered the chance. Mendy finished with 130 total yards, including 99 on the ground to go with 1 touchdown.

Mike Wallace stood out on the National Stage much the way Santonio Holmes used to for us. He was explosive and commanded double teams throughout the game on his deep routes. He made a great adjustment on the Randle El pass play to come back, fight for the ball and make the catch. He finished with 5 catches for 110 yards and a TD.

I could go on for awhile, so further shout outs here for Lawrence Timmons, Ziggy Hood, James Farrior, Willie Gay and Jason Worilds who also performed very solidly throughout the game

Bengals:

Terrell Owens takes advantage of the double teams commanded by Ochocinco. Although we utilised the same strategy for Owens as we did Roddy White in Week One, keeping him in front of B-Mac, he still managed to beat us deep on a couple occasions and had a stand out game for the Bengals, and his fire on the sideline helped fire up the Bengals late in the game when they realised they had a shot. T.O finished with 10 catches for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns. Also congratulations to him for being just the 3rd player in NFL History to grab 150 receiving touchdowns for his career.

Andre Smith in the first 3 quarters looked more like the #6 overall pick he was supposed to be. Although I counted two blatant holdings of Woodley in the first half, more often than not he took on Woodley one on one and held him off. As the game wore down he started getting beat badly by Woodley, as he fatigued his footwork and strength deteriorated, but he looks like he has a solid base to improve on. 

The Bengals pass rush came into the season with a mere 6 sacks and although they only left with 1, the pass rush was still penetrating and taking advantage of the mismatches when the Steelers had starters leave through injury. Big Ben being Big Ben evaded at least 3 or 4 hits to make plays but he never really got comfortable back there.

The Bad:

Steelers:

Injuries along the Offensive Line almost killed the Steelers in this game. Both Maurkice Pouncey and Chris Kemoeatu went down with what appeared to be game ending injuries, although Pouncey did re enter the game in the 3rd Quarter (Not sure if Kemo did or not). The Steelers like versatility along the line, hence why Jonathan Scott and Doug Legursky are our backups. However, we only carried 7 OL into this game and this freak occasion may lead to us carrying 8 Lineman into future games. 

The Offense in the 3rd quarter was pretty bad. When arguably your two best starting Lineman go out of the game, you end up going to more basic plays and blocking schemes to accommodate the inexperience out there, so dont be too harsh on Bruce Arians for that note. You can however be harsh on him for calling short receiver routes on a key 3rd and 10. I only saw El and Ward run their routes, but El's was a 5 yard curl and Ward I think it was ran a quick 5 yard out. I wasnt impressed. But two third and outs to start the 2nd half when we couldve had a chance to put away the Bengals chances early hurt.

Jeff Reed gets the blame for missing his 46 yard field goal when we couldve been up by 9 which at the time wouldve been insurmountable. Sure, hes only a kicker, but Kickers get paid more than the average American to do their job too, and he shanked this badly. He wasnt helped however by conservative play calling running Mendenhall exclusively on that drive. You play to win.

Bengals:

Special teams gaffes killed them early on, and if not for an offensive sputter by the Steelers, they wouldnt had been in this one in the second half after committing 3 first half turnovers.

Mike Nugent missed two field goals, they fumbled away the opening kickoff and they had a punt blocked on a big missed assignment. 

Carson Palmer still gets happy feet when the pass rush is coming, as he forced passes and was reluctant to step up in the pocket against the Steeler D. It was no surprise that he started coming back late in the game when the Steelers slowed down the blitz.

Key Stat:

The Steelers held the Bengals under 75 yards rushing for the game, which was an NFL record 8th consecutive game to start a season. The Bengals routinely settled for 3rd and Longs and subsequently were 3/12 on 3rd Down. 

The Bengals dug themselves into a hole with the turnover battle, offensive turnovers in favor of the Steelers 4-2.

Bottom Line:

For all you people whinging out there about the "collapse" late in the game, wasnt this exactly what you were begging for last season? Sure it was close at the end, but ultimately, the Defense stepped up and won the game in the dying stages. We couldnt do that last year. If Ike Taylor puts his hands on the receiver one second later, then its a dropped pass and the Steelers D dominate on the last drive. Woodley had a sack/FF. Then Willie Gay came up big on a pass rush. This was exactly what we had been asking for, yet apparantly for some it still isnt good enough. Ike Taylor made up for the penalty in combining with Harrison to force the incompletion on 4th down. 

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Look Ahead to Week Ten:

 

Baltimore Ravens (6-2) @ Atlanta Falcons (6-2)

In what some out there would call a potential Superbowl preview, the Atlanta Falcons host the Ravens on Thursday night in a heavyweight fight between dirty birds. All jokes aside, Atlanta has been one of the hottest teams this season, winning 6 of the last 7, whilst Baltimore have now won 5 of the last 6. Somethings gotta give in this one. Both teams have had a short week to prepare, but I think the advantage in this will be decided by which defense plays better. Baltimores got theres back on track against Miami, whilst the Falcons looked a little vulnerable against the Bucanneers. 

Falcons win 26-23

 

Cincinnati Bengals (2-6) @ Indianapolis Colts (5-3)

For the Bengals it keeps getting worse. On a short week after their Monday Night encounter against the Steelers, they travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts who are coming off a loss of their own against the Eagles. In a tale of two teams going separate ways, the play of Peyton Manning should be enough to overcome the loss of Austin Collie to a growing Injury list, and I wouldnt expect another late game comeback out of the Bengals in this one.

Colts win 27-17

 

New York Jets (6-2) @ Cleveland Browns (3-5)

Suddenly, the Browns are looking like a very dangerous team. In the last two wins they have outscored their opponents 64-31, not to mention those two teams were the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots. Confidence is incredibly high in Cleveland right now, and the team is playing their hearts out for Coach Mangini. Guess whos coming to town next? Eric Mangini's old team. This game is the last of a tough stretch for the Browns, who after this their next four opponents are a combined 9-23(0.391). Can they pull it out one more time?

Browns win 17-10

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Quick Hits:

I know I've wrote more than usual this week, so I'll keep this segment short:

- New York Giants are possibly the best looking team in football right now. They have the #2 Offense and #1 Defense in the league statistics wise, and that is always a recipe for success. Not to mention, they have won 5 straight games this season, best current streak in the league.

- The AFC West could well be returning to normal hierarchy. The Chargers are now 4-5 and looking to get hot in the middle of the season like they usually do, the Chiefs have looked more like pretenders in two recent games against Buffalo and Oakland, and Oakland, despite winning against KC, did it in much worse fashion than their previous two games. 

- Wade Phillips out, Jason Garrett in. The Cowboys were not expected to win many games without Romo, but they definitely weren't expected to roll over defensively like they have against the Jaguars and the Packers. Dont look for Bill Cowher to be arriving anytime soon however.

- 9 outta 13 this week on BTSC Pick Em. Solid, however two results killed me. I had both Buffalo and Detroit beating the Bears and Jets respectively and both went right to the wire but ultimately not my way. Really thought I had hit the jackpot. Picking Kansas City after I initially picked Oakland stung as well. And no, of course I didnt pick the Browns. 

 

Thats it for Week Nine. AFC North Round Up Special Edition coming up shortly. 

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